Formula 1

Edd Straw’s 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix driver ratings

by Edd Straw
15 min read

The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix made it two thrilling races from two at the start of the 2022 Formula 1 season.

It again featured a titanic scrap between Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen for victory, with Verstappen coming out on top this time to make up for Red Bull’s implosion late on in Bahrain.

But there were a handful of performances throughout the field at a similar level to – if not higher than – the top two, according to Edd Straw, who rates the field for the second time this season.

2022 Site Ver Saud

Started: 4th Finished: 1st

Verstappen didn’t have the easiest time in qualifying, setting his best lap of the session in Q1 and struggling for grip thereafter. That continued a pattern that cropped up earlier in the weekend of showing strong pace but not always hooking the lap together. It resulted in him being beaten on pace by Perez for only the second time in their stint as team-mates.

He relied on a little good fortune in the race in terms of Perez dropping behind him due to the first safety car, but thereafter drove an intelligent and attacking race to defeat Leclerc by playing the DRS game to his advantage. Once ahead, he had the straightline speed to stay there.

2022 Site Per Saud

Started: 1st Finished: 4th

It’s not a foregone conclusion that Perez would have won had Latifi’s crash not brought out the safety car just after he’d made his pitstop at the end of lap 15. But chances are he’d have hung onto the lead and would have had the chance to close out victory from there.

This was all because of his superb Q3 performance earned him his first F1 pole after an 11-year wait. His was a superb lap, in which Perez balanced risk and reward perfectly to produce a time just over seven tenths faster than anything he’d managed prior to Q3. As he put it, “I could do 1000 laps and I don’t think I could beat that lap”.

For the race lead that earned him to be turned into fourth place through no fault of his own was a cruel blow from misfortune. The one downside is that his pace on the hards wasn’t quite good enough to threaten Sainz and reclaim a podium place.

Perez has to be given a high rating for this given he did everything right and was denied a chance to close out the victory position he had put himself in.

2022 Site Ham Saud

Started: 16th Finished: 10th

Hamilton complained of rear-end instability that compromised him in the sweeps of Jeddah, which resulted in a gap of just over six-tenths to Russell and his first elimination in Q1 on pace since Silverstone 2009.

There “nothing radical” in terms of differences to Russell’s car, according to Andrew Shovlin, but the combination of a little too much front end and a tyre-pressure gamble that didn’t work created the effect.

Hamilton had a part to play in those decisions and therefore has to carry the can for his Q1 elimination, which ultimately severely restricted his race-result potential.

He was on course for a potential seventh place, assuming he could have built enough time to pit and emerge ahead of Gasly and Norris, when the VSC intervened. Confused communication from the pitwall, again which Hamilton did play a part in, led to him missing a chance to pit under the VSC, ultimately resulting in him finishing only 10th.

The bottom line is that Hamilton was quick, in terms of underlying pace maybe a few tenths quicker than Russell, but some key decisions that went awry meant he couldn’t deliver on that speed. As Hamilton played a part in those choices and the resulting struggles in qualifying – and the pitstop confusion – that dents his rating.

2022 Site Rus Saud

Started: 6th Finished: 5th

You might expect Russell to be delighted he’d outperformed Hamilton so comprehensively on his second qualifying outing of the year, but he was mainly frustrated with the struggles Mercedes had to make the car work. Sixth was a good result, although he felt that the pace was there to have picked off Ocon as well.

In the race, Russell made short work of Ocon, passing him on the third lap. Thereafter, his was a lonely experience as there was little to do beyond roll round on his own and bank fifth place.

It was a good weekend’s work, although Hamilton’s pace on older hards during the race while behind his team-mate suggested that Russell’s seed was perhaps not quite as supreme as it appeared. Even so, a well-executed weekend, albeit one where he wasn’t too hard pushed given the race situation.

2022 Site Lec Saud

Started: 2nd Finished: 2nd

Leclerc was just behind Sainz in Q1 and Q2, but while he still struggled he found it slightly easier to get performance out of fresh rubber than his team-mate. That looked set to earn him pole position, before Perez’s late lap meant he missed out by 0.025s.

In the race, he ran second but picked up the lead thanks to the safety car being deployed just after Perez’s pitstop. But he had Verstappen behind and although he appeared to have things under control for a stretch mid-race, the Red Bull driver was able to come back at him after the VSC, with Leclerc eventually losing out in the battle of racing wits with Verstappen.

Central to his rating are two key questions – could he have taken pole and therefore not relied on Perez’s misfortune? And could he have found a way to prevail in the closing-stages battle with Verstappen? The answer to the first question is yes, but the second is trickier to call even though his straightline speed disadvantage made it difficult.

2022 Site Sai Saud

Started: 3rd Finished: 3rd

Sainz topped Q1, Q2 and the first runs in Q3, but when it came to the crucial final run he couldn’t get the fresh softs to produce the grip they should have done. That meant he lapped a quarter of a second faster on softs on their seventh lap on the first Q3 run than on softs at the end.

But the deficit of just under two tenths to his team-mate was reasonable, as it reflected the fact Sainz was again performing decently but simply not at Leclerc’s level.

That pace disadvantage was still there in the race, in which Sainz ran fourth in the first stint before picking up a place when it emerged Perez had been fractionally behind him at the SC line at the pit exit.

A good weekend’s work, but simply not at Leclerc’s level.

2022 Site Ricsaud

Started: 14th Finished: DNF

After a difficult weekend in Bahrain with what appeared to be a COVID-19 hangover, Ricciardo was happier in Saudi Arabia and lapped just over a tenth of a second off Norris in qualifying.

Unfortunately, he was hit with a three-place grid penalty, starting 14th and holding 13th in the first stint before making an early pitstop to switch from mediums to hards. This was a good move, and had put Ricciardo in contention for a points finish as getting to the end on that set of hards was perfectly achievable.

Ricciardo held 10th just behind Norris having been gently requested to let let his team-mate past when he lost drive and retired.

This was a weekend when Ricciardo wasn’t quite at Norris’s level, but the gap was relatively small.

2022 Site Nor Saud

Started: 11th Finished: 7th

Norris was much happier with the pace of the McLaren and got within touching distance of Q3 with 11th place, with his slender advantage over Ricciardo mainly on having a little more confidence into the entry to the faster corners.

He briefly ran 10th in the first stint, with a superb pass on Gasly at Turn 1 on the second lap the highlight, before being shuffled back to 12th by Gasly and Hamilton. Gasly stopping just before the safety car meant he jumped the AlphaTauri when he made his pitstop under the safety car.

Norris then benefitted from the retirements of Bottas and Alonso before jumping Hamilton and Magnussen when they finally made their stops.

He then closed the gap on sixth-placed Ocon in the closing stages and was frustrated not to have passed him, crossing the line just a tenth of a second behind after a late attack.

A strong weekend, although he was so close to gaining a place in both qualifying and the race that a slightly better result either on Saturday or Sunday was possible.

2022 Site Oco Saud

Started: 5th Finished: 6th

It was a busy qualifying session for Ocon, who was impeded by Ricciardo on his first Q2 run and had to rely on a late lap to make the top 10. But he put in an outstanding lap on used softs on the first Q3 runs to take fifth.

Perhaps most importantly, he kept the car under control when it snapped in Turn 10/11 on his final run. He suggested that one more degree out of line and he’d have had a repeat of Schumacher’s accident.

Ocon held fifth early on before inevitably falling behind the quicker Mercedes of Russell. He then became embroiled in a frenetic battle with team-mate Alonso, one that eventually allowed Bottas to get ahead.

Bottas’s overheating problems, Alonso’s retirement and the relatively late pitstops for Magnussen and Hamilton allowed Ocon to climb to sixth place in the second half of the race and he just held off Norris at the line.

Another good weekend from Ocon, who was slightly stronger than Alonso in qualifying but lost out to him on race performance.

2022 Site Alo Saud

Started: 7th Finished: DNF

Alonso breezed through to Q3 with a second fresh set of softs still in his armoury, although whether that was a good thing given some, including Ocon, found it easier to extract pace from used rubber is not clear. But Alonso set times separated by only around half-a-tenth on his two runs to take seventh.

Alonso was clearly in an attacking mood in the race, enjoying a dramatic battle with team-mate Ocon that he eventually prevailed in. That set him up for a sixth-place finish, which was the best possible for Alpine without those ahead hitting trouble, only to lose power.

While Ocon had the edge in qualifying trim, Alonso was outstanding in the race.

2022 Site Gas Saud

Started: 9th Finished: 8th

Gasly made his customary way to Q3 despite issues in Saturday’s practice session caused by a driveshaft-related problem. He had to rely on his first run on used softs to claim ninth place but his final lap on fresh rubber was a wild ride, leading him to suggest something was wrong with the car, with a big moment in Turn 4 denying him a possible shot at fifth place.

Magnussen and Norris relegated Gasly to 11th on the opening couple of laps, but he soon reclaimed 10th from Norris. But Gasly’s race was made more complicated by the fact that, like Perez, he stopped to switch to hard tyres just before the safety car was deployed.

That dropped him behind Norris, and resulted in eighth place holding off the charging Magnussen given he was unable to match the McLaren driver’s pace late on. But given he was “screaming in pain” in the closing stages because “I feel like every left turn someone was stabbing me on the inside, on my intestine”, that was perhaps understandable.

It was another good weekend’s work from Gasly, who also gets credit for battling on despite extreme discomfort in the final 15 laps or so.

2022 Site Tsu Saud

Started: DNP Finished: DNS

It’s rare for a driver not to qualify for a rating, but given Tsunoda was unable to set a time in qualifying thanks to a water leak then couldn’t start the race thanks to losing oil pressure due to an engine problem it is justified.

For what it’s worth, he showed solid pace during practice but given he had no chance to participate in the serious stuff in qualifying and the race there’s not enough data to go on to make a judgement.

2022 Site Str Saud

Started: 13th Finished: 13th

Stroll was the only driver to use three fresh sets of softs in Q1, but he made excellent use of them after a late change to set the laptime that pushed Hamilton into the dropzone. That put him just under three tenths ahead of his team-mate. But he was unable to replicate his Q1 pace in Q2, leaking time after a promising first sector.

In the race, Stroll did what he could, running 12th between the two McLarens early on. But he was powerless to keep that position given the pace of the Aston Martin.

But he did hold 11th place in the closing stages, only for Albon to make a late lunge at Turn 1 and clatter into him, putting both out of the race.

This was a decent weekend’s work from Stroll in a car that is, at best, ninth-fastest.

2022 Site Hulk Saud

Started: 17th Finished: 12th

Despite being far better prepared for his second outing as Vettel’s stand-in thanks to his experience in Bahrain and the fact he returned to the UK for a preparation session in the simulator, Hulkenberg was unable to match Stroll’s qualifying pace and join him in Q2.

He opted for a long first stint on hards in the race and produced decent pace throughout that stint, also finding the race less of a physical challenge than he had originally feared. Unfortunately, the early safety car period didn’t help his strategy, although he did manage to make it to the pits before they closed under the VSC later on.

He ran last after that stop having dropped back behind Zhou, which became 12th place when Albon hit Stroll.

The results on paper weren’t great, but Hulkenberg was performing at a higher level in Saudi Arabia than Bahrain and showed he’s still got something to offer in F1 if needed in the future.

2022 Site Lat Saud

Started: 18th Finished: DNF

This was a horrible weekend for Latifi, who shunted at Turn 12 in Q1 and left himself last on the grid, then crashed at Turn 27 on lap 15 while running ahead only of those who had made early pitstops.

Friday had been promising, but he seemed to struggle to re-adapt to the calmer wind conditions on Saturday and always looked off Albon’s pace. His crash was on his first push lap on the second set of tyres when the rear end suddenly snapped away under braking.

The race crash came on the power coming out of the final corner, bringing to an end a race that probably wasn’t going anywhere.

Crashes at key points and a lack of pace can only add up to a very low rating.

2022 Site Alb Saud

Started: 16th Finished: 14th

Albon felt the car had the pace to make it into Q2, but he fell a quarter-of-a-second short after struggling a little to bring in the tyres during the first stage of qualifying. But otherwise, he appeared comfortable with the car.

He drove a decent race on the orthodox one-stop strategy and was in a position to potentially finish 11th late on had he made a successful pass on Stroll. Unfortunately, he was a little too aggressive into the first corner, locked up and hit Stroll, putting both out and earning himself a three-place grid penalty for Australia.

That mistake does a lot of damage to his rating, especially given the knock-on effect for Australia.

2022 Site Zho Saud

Started: 12th Finished: 11th

Just as in Bahrain, Zhou set himself a conservative target of reaching Q2 and took a visibly sensible approach to qualifying. That left him 13th, six tenths slower than Bottas was in the same session – but with the caveat that his tyre use was compromised as he’d already gone out on his second set when Schumacher crashed and brought out the red flag.

The early seconds of the race proved to be a disaster as he suffered wheelspin off the start in the tricky-to-get-off-the-line Alfa then attempted to squeeze through the first corner on the inside of Ricciardo, making contact with the McLaren, clattering the kerb and seemingly upshifting for third gear at too low a sped, resulting in the anti-stall kicking in and dropping him to last.

That’s very similar to what happened in Bahrain, and as he did the previous weekend Zhou started picking off cars, only to lock up and cut across the runoff at Turn 1/2 just after DRS-ing past Albon. That earned him a five-second penalty, although it should be noted he did ask if he should give the place back and was told not to by the pitwall.

Zhou’s five-second penalty led to another drive-through penalty after the front-jack man lifted the car when he shouldn’t have done thanks to a miscommunication. All of this added up to running last, although he went on to pass Hulkenberg then jumped Stroll and Albon when they retired to finish 11th.

2022 Site Bot Saud

Started: 8th Finished: DNF

Bottas was concerned that Alfa Romeo might struggle on this circuit with so many high-speed corners, but he reached Q3 with relative ease. He was firmly in the thick of the battle for positions five through 10 in the final shoot out, ending up eighth with a decent, but not perfect, lap.

He held eighth at the start, showing he has adapted to the clutch vibration problems that blighted his launch in Bahrain, then took advantage of the duelling Alpines to take seventh from Ocon.

Bottas held ninth when overheating problems kicked in, with a second pitstop made to clear out the air intakes to no avail, forcing his retirement. At that point, he was on course for a possible sixth place ahead of Ocon, showing the Alfa Romeo/Bottas combination is proving potent in F1’s midfield.

2022 Site Mag Saud

Started: 10th Finished: 9th

Magnussen headed into the weekend cold having not raced in Jeddah last year or had the chance to have a run in the simulator. He completed only 15 laps on Friday, two installation laps in FP1 thanks to a hydraulic problem and 13 in FP2 before stopping on track with a power unit problem that first manifested itself when the floor took a big hit from the kerb at Turn 11.

Despite that, and the fact that he complained of feeling like his neck was going to break given the g-force and the lack of time to prepare himself physically for his unexpected F1 comeback, he still made it into Q3 – albeit only in 10th place.

He started the race on hards, so stayed out under the safety car and ran to lap 37, diving into the pits before they were closed and re-emerging in the ninth place he held in the first stint of the race. Thereafter, he closed on Gasly but ran out of laps.

Magnussen’s lack of preparation did shine through a little in Saudi Arabia and the car probably had a better result in it. But in the circumstances Magnussen did a decent job to bring home more points even if there was some performance left on the table.

2022 Site Msc Saud

Started: DNS Finished: DNS

While his heavy impact was a big price to pay for a small mistake, his rating has to be low as it was Schumacher’s mistake that led directly to him being unable to race.

Schumacher was pushing himself both to close the gap to Magnussen and make it to Q3 for the first time when a brief moment in Turn 9 compromised his entry to Turn 10 and led to him running deep, losing the car on the kerb and flicking it heavily into the concrete wall.

Thankfully, Schumacher was uninjured but the damage to the car and concerns about the potential knock-on effects of a rush-job to complete it meant Haas withdrew the car.

While Schumacher had outpaced his team-mate on the first Q2 runs by 0.286s, partly thanks to Magnussen having a slow start to the lap after a moment in Turn 1/2, he generally looked to be three-to-four tenths behind.

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